"The Vice-warden gave it me, he did, for letting you out last time! So be off with you!" And, turning away from them, he began digging frantically in the middle of a gravel-walk, singing, over and over again, "'Poor thing,' he said, 'poor silly thing! It's waiting to be fed!'" but in a more musical tone than the shrill screech in which he had begun.
The music grew fuller and richer at every moment: other manly voices joined in the refrain: and soon I heard the heavy thud that told me the boat had touched the beach, and the harsh grating of the shingle as the men dragged it up. I roused myself, and, after lending them a hand in hauling up their boat, I lingered yet awhile to watch them disembark a goodly assortment of the hard-won 'treasures of the deep.'
When at last I reached our lodgings I was tired and sleepy, and glad enough to settle down again into the easy-chair, while Arthur hospitably went to his cupboard, to get me out some cake and wine, without which, he declared, he could not, as a doctor, permit my going to bed.
And how that cupboard-door did creak! It surely could not be Arthur, who was opening and shutting it so often, moving so restlessly about, and muttering like the soliloquy of a tragedy-queen!
No, it was a female voice. Also the figure half-hidden by the cupboard-door--was a female figure, massive, and in flowing robes,
Could it be the landlady? The door opened, and a strange man entered the room.
"What is that donkey doing?" he said to himself, pausing, aghast, on the threshold.
The lady, thus rudely referred to, was his wife. She had got one of the cupboards open, and stood with her back to him, smoothing down a sheet of brown paper on one of the shelves, and whispering to herself "So, so! Deftly done! Craftily contrived!"
Her loving husband stole behind her on tiptoe, and tapped her on the head. "Boh!" he playfully shouted at her ear. "Never tell me again I ca'n't say 'boh' to a goose!"
My Lady wrung her hands. "Discovered!" she groaned. "Yet no--he is one of us! Reveal it not, oh Man! Let it bide its time!"
"Reveal what not?" her husband testily replied, dragging out the sheet of brown paper. "What are you hiding here, my Lady? I insist upon knowing!"
My Lady cast down her eyes, and spoke in the littlest of little voices. "Don't make fun of it, Benjamin!" she pleaded. "It's--it's---don't you understand? It's a DAGGER!"
"And what's that for?" sneered His Excellency. "We've only got to make people think he's dead! We haven't got to kill him! And made of tin, too!" he snarled, contemptuously bending the blade round his thumb. Now, Madam, you'll be good enough to explain. First, what do you call me Benjamin for?"
"It's part of the Conspiracy, Love! One must have an alias, you know--"
"Oh, an alias, is it? Well! And next, what did you get this dagger for? Come, no evasions! You ca'n't deceive me!"
"I got it for--for--for--" the detected Conspirator stammered, trying her best to put on the assassin-expression that she had been practising at the looking-glass. "For--"
"For what, Madam!"
"Well, for eighteenpence, if you must know, dearest! That's what I got it for, on my--"
"Now don't say your Word and Honour!" groaned the other Conspirator. "Why, they aren't worth half the money, put together!"
"On my birthday," my Lady concluded in a meek whisper. "One must have a dagger, you know. It's part of the--"
"Oh, don't talk of Conspiracies!" her husband savagely interrupted, as he tossed the dagger into the cupboard. "You know about as much how to manage a Conspiracy as if you were a chicken. Why, the first thing is to get a disguise. Now, just look at this!"
And with pardonable pride he fitted on the cap and bells, and the rest of the Fool's dress, and winked at her, and put his tongue in his cheek. "Is that the sort of thing, now." he demanded.
My Lady's eyes flashed with all a Conspirator's enthusiasm. "The very thing!" she exclaimed, clapping her hands. "You do look, oh, such a perfect Fool!"
The Fool smiled a doubtful smile.